UN experts: Libya’s security threatened by foreign fighters

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Libya faces a serious security threat from foreign fighters and private military companies, especially Russia’s Wagner Group which has violated international law, U.N. experts said in a report obtained by The Associated Press.

The experts also accused seven Libyan armed groups of systematically using unlawful detention to punish perceived opponents, ignoring international and domestic civil rights laws, including laws prohibiting torture.

In particular, “migrants have been extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses and regularly subjected to acts of slavery, rape and torture,” the panel said in the report to the U.N. Security Council obtained by the AP.

An October 2020 cease-fire deal led to an agreement on a transitional government in early February 2021 and elections were scheduled for last Dec. 24 aimed at unifying the country. But they were canceled and the country now has rival governments with two Libyans claiming to be prime minister.

The cease-fire agreement called for the speedy withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries but the panel said “there has been little verifiable evidence of any large-scale withdrawals taking place to date.”

The report said Chadian opposition groups operate from Libya and Sudanese fighters have been recruited by Hifter. Turkish-backed Syrian fighters have been seen by the panel in government military camps in Tripoli while Hifter-affiliated Syrian fighters operate alongside the Wagner Group’s fighters in the strategic northern city of Sirte and nearby Jufra. At least 300 of these Syrians have returned home and not been replaced by Hifter, the report said.

The panel said it continues to investigate the deployment of Wagner fighters and the transfers of arms and related materiel to support its operations.

The Wagner Group passes itself off as a private military contractor and the Kremlin denies any connection to it. But the United States identifies Wagner’s financer as Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The panel said it identified 18 arms transfers and four examples of military training between March 2021 and late April 2022 that violated the U.N. arms embargo. Among the examples it cited was the Luccello, a ship flying the Comoros flag that delivered 100 armored vehicles to Hifter in Benghazi.

The experts said four migrants suffered human rights abuses in secret detention facilities controlled by human traffickers in the areas of Tazirbu in the Libyan desert and Bani Walid near the northwest coast. They said victims were enslaved, severely beaten, deliberately starved and denied medical care.

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